Gibbons v. Ogden Case Brief

Summary of Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)

Relevant Facts: State of NY Legislature granted Livingston and Fulton exclusive license to operate steamships in its waters. Livingston and Fulton assigned Ogden the right to operate a ferry in its waters. Gibbons, a competitor, technically violated the NY license by entering its waters.

Gibbons vessels were licensed as those which were “vessels in the coasting trade,” pursuant to 1793 statute. Ogden obtained an injunction in NY state courts, prohibiting Gibbons from operating his vessels in NY waters. Gibbons appealed, claiming the judgment was inconsistent with the Commerce Clause.

Issue: Under constitutional law, may one ferry operator interpose another’s claim for sole rights to trade in NY waters when a State statute earmarked one of them with permission to use its waterways?

Holding: No. “Navigation,” as it is defined in the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, allows only the Federal gov’t the ability to allow or condemn commerce between foreign countries and between states.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: The court decides to answer the question by the original intent method. The Court examines the word “commerce,” which it deems as intercourse, not just traffic, and not just navigation, as to the buying and selling of goods. The original intent of the Framers was to have the act as one of commercial enterprise, and it has been treated as such over the years.

The first sentence of the clause does not apply to just those issues of revenue, and the most obvious preference which one could give to another in commerce is navigation. The term “nor shall any vessels bound or from one state, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties, in another,” references navigation as well. So Congress has the power to navigate, but how much power.

Power is extended by the federal gov’t to everything: from foreign nations to the States. Similarly, if the power is for foreign trade, and foreign trades exists between the States of the country, and if the U.S. Is made up of states, then there is a Federal power to regulate trade between states.

The government’s ability to sanction trade embargoes shows the power of the gov’t is understood to be stronger than the states.

Rule: Article One, section 9, clause 6: “No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one State over those of another: nor shall vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.”

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